NASA: Earth JUST dodged comms-killing SOLAR BLAST in 2012

The Doomsday scenario we should have been worrying about


Video A new analysis of data from NASA's Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) by Chinese and Berkeley helioboffins shows that a July 2012 solar storm of unprecedented size would have wiped out global electronic systems if it had occurred just nine days earlier.

"Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous," said UC Berkeley research physicist Janet Luhmann.

The 1859 storm, also known as the Carrington Event, after the British astronomer who recorded it, swept over the Earth at the end of August and is the largest recorded solar storm in history. The aurora borealis extended as far south as Cuba and telegraph systems burnt out across Europe and the US, in some cases shocking operators and continuing to send signals even when switched off.

The data from STEREO's twin satellites observing the Sun showed that on July 23, 2012, an enormous coronal mass ejection (CME) burst out of the Sun's side at between 1,800 and 2,200 miles per second. STEREO-A, situated 89,000,000 miles away from the Sun, logged the CME's speed at 750 miles per second when it physically passed the probe on its way spacewards.

"We measure magnetic fields in 'Tesla' and this CME was 80 nanoTesla," said Antti Pulkkinen, a space weather scientist at NASA Goddard. He explained that the Carrington Event was measured at 110 nanoTesla, but the 2012 eruption is the largest ever detected by the STEREO mission.

Given the Sun's rotational speed, if the CME had erupted nine days earlier the Earth would have been directly in its path. Once it reached our planet it would have taken out satellite communications systems, a big chunk of the GPS network, and possibly crashed power grids and computer systems down on the surface.

"An extreme space weather storm – a solar superstorm – is a low-probability, high-consequence event that poses severe threats to critical infrastructures of the modern society," said research physicist Ying Liu, a professor at China's State Key Laboratory of Space Weather.

"The cost of an extreme space weather event, if it hits Earth, could reach trillions of dollars with a potential recovery time of 4 to 10 years. Therefore, it is paramount to the security and economic interest of the modern society to understand solar superstorms."

The Sino-American team has published their full results in the journal Nature Communications. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Uncle Sam to clip wings of Pegasus-like spyware – sorry, 'intrusion software' – with proposed export controls

    Surveillance tech faces trade limits as America syncs policy with treaty obligations

    More than six years after proposing export restrictions on "intrusion software," the US Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has formulated a rule that it believes balances the latitude required to investigate cyber threats with the need to limit dangerous code.

    The BIS on Wednesday announced an interim final rule that defines when an export license will be required to distribute what is basically commercial spyware, in order to align US policy with the 1996 Wassenaar Arrangement, an international arms control regime.

    The rule [PDF] – which spans 65 pages – aims to prevent the distribution of surveillance tools, like NSO Group's Pegasus, to countries subject to arms controls, like China and Russia, while allowing legitimate security research and transactions to continue. Made available for public comment over the next 45 days, the rule is scheduled to be finalized in 90 days.

    Continue reading
  • Global IT spending to hit $4.5 trillion in 2022, says Gartner

    The future's bright, and expensive

    Corporate technology soothsayer Gartner is forecasting worldwide IT spending will hit $4.5tr in 2022, up 5.5 per cent from 2021.

    The strongest growth is set to come from enterprise software, which the analyst firm expects to increase by 11.5 per cent in 2022 to reach a global spending level of £670bn. Growth has fallen slightly, though. In 2021 it was 13.6 per cent for this market segment. The increase was driven by infrastructure software spending, which outpaced application software spending.

    The largest chunk of IT spending is set to remain communication services, which will reach £1.48tr next year, after modest growth of 2.1 per cent. The next largest category is IT services, which is set to grow by 8.9 per cent to reach $1.29tr over the next year, according to the analysts.

    Continue reading
  • Memory maker Micron moots $150bn mega manufacturing moneybag

    AI and 5G to fuel demand for new plants and R&D

    Chip giant Micron has announced a $150bn global investment plan designed to support manufacturing and research over the next decade.

    The memory maker said it would include expansion of its fabrication facilities to help meet demand.

    As well as chip shortages due to COVID-19 disruption, the $21bn-revenue company said it wanted to take advantage of the fact memory and storage accounts for around 30 per cent of the global semiconductor industry today.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021